In the Studio: Restoring a Chinese Painting

Damaged area of Chinese painting on silk, before and after inpainting.

Damaged area of Chinese painting on silk, before and after inpainting.

A good antique Chinese scroll painting, now framed, in my studio for treatment.

A good antique Chinese scroll painting, now framed, in my studio for treatment.

After chasing Iliana around the fields of Madison-Bouckville I was ready to return to my work tables at Center Art Studio. A comfy chair, air conditioning, and a view of Times Square (if you lean out of the window a little bit). Best of all, some great old things to work on and enjoy.

Today I’m working on an antique Chinese painting on silk, originally a scroll. It is a beautiful thing, about six feet tall, but sadly it suffered extensive abrasion in the bottom 10 – 12 inches. The image is classic Chinese painting: a beautiful pavilion in a rocky landscape with a sailboat in the upper distance and a bridge over a stream in the foreground (the most damaged area). The palette is subtle, dominated by an amber light, with details in muted greens, reds, and brown-black. This painting shows the Chinese way of showing perspective – so different from traditional Western painting. The different parts of this scene seem to exist in one plane, then in no rational space at all, shifting as I look at it.

My job today is to inpaint the abrasions where the color is lost at the bottom. Inpainting is like retouching, with the added connotation of only adding paint where the original is missing (retouching within the damaged area rather than painting over it). I am using Gamblin conservation colors with a#6 Kolinsky sable brush (this one is the da Vinci Restauro series, which I really like).  If you are looking for supplies and have trouble finding things I mention, start with the Talas website. They have just about everything and years of experience as well.

Inpainting - adding color only within the damaged area, leaving all original color untouched.

Inpainting - adding color only within the damaged area, leaving all original color untouched.

If you do the inpainting right, the painting will look much better after treatment but the extent of damage will still be clearly visible under close examination, like with a UV lamp. We use UV, or blacklight, flashlights to check paintings when we are thinking about buying them or preparing treatment proposals. Restorations show up clearly. Often the restorer added much more paint than needed, causing a painting to look worse than it is. But I digress – UV in the field and in the studio will be the subject of a future post.

After a few hours I was pretty happy with the progress. I’ll head home, then come in tomorrow morning and see how it looks with fresh eyes.

Hard at work. Maybe next time I'll try to inpaint my gray hair.

Hard at work. Maybe next time I'll try to inpaint my gray hair.

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3 responses to “In the Studio: Restoring a Chinese Painting

  1. Nice contrast to the country antique show. Lots of good information for any layman interested in restoration, or even some pros. By the way, how do you deal with a hole where the silk is missing on a Chinese silk scroll painting? Do you back the hole with new silk and paint on it? I assume you cannot reline a silk scroll the way you sometimes do with an oil painting. Very readable blog!

    • We can line a silk scroll, using rice paper – the original silk was mounted on paper. We try to preserve the existing backing and make patches if necessary.

  2. Beautiful painting. We are have something similar to this and we would like to frame it. Can you tell me the dimensions of the frame used for this scroll? Thank you!

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